Dada

In Germany, Dada took on a more aggressively political character than it had shown in Zurich, with the Berlin Dadaists and their counterparts in Cologne … advocating radical political change in the wake of the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the November Revolution of 1918.

— Brigid Doherty

Montage is the technique the Berlin Dadaists deployed in their efforts to transform the production and reception of works of art.

— Brigid Doherty

The Dada movement emerged in Zurich in neutral Switzerland in 1916, fuelled by the philosophical and political despair experienced by artists and poets during World War I. Initially centred around the Cabaret Voltaire, Dada brought together Tristan Tzara, Richard Huelsenbeck, Emmy Hennings, Hugo Ball and others to protest against what they perceived as the irrational and senseless elements of European culture. Violent, infantile and chaotic, Dada took its name from the French word for a child’s hobbyhorse or possibly from the sound of a baby’s babble. Its activities included poetry readings and avant-garde performances, as well as creating new forms of abstract art that subverted all existing conventions in Western art.

The impact of the Dada movement was felt throughout Europe – and most powerfully in Germany – from 1917 to 1921. Christian Schad’s participation in the Zurich Dada group resulted in the creation of a unique series of photograms, or camera-less photographs, together with abstract wood reliefs. In Cologne, a branch of Dada emerged through the work of Max Ernst, who produced intricate collages and staged highly provocative anti-art exhibitions. Kurt Schwitters in Hanover developed Dada-inspired works, called 'Merz’ collages, through which he invented a completely new way of making art, composed from found objects taken from modern city life. Berlin Dada, which formed in 1917, took on a decidedly political tone. Though the Dada movement in Germany was very short-lived, it has profoundly influenced subsequent developments in avant-garde art and culture.

Focus work

Hannah Höch (1889–1978)
Made for a party 1936

Year 7-12 Visual Arts: issues for consideration

  • What is Dada? How did this new way of thinking impact on the meaning of art? Discuss the material and conceptual practice of Dada artists and consider how they offer the viewer a new way of seeing the world. Research how contemporary artists show influences of Dada practice.
  • Hannah Höch explores the role of women both as artists and in society. Analyse this artwork and discuss how the artist has expressed her point of view? Is the title significant to the meaning of the work? Compare how women were represented in the years before and after Made for a party 1936. Can you see similarities and differences to the manner in which they are represented?
  • The Berlin Dadaists showing their interest in merging photographic and typographic imagery developed photomontage. How has photomontage strengthened Hannah Höch’s body of work? Would other material practice be as effective?
  • Create a photomontage based on a social or political issue you feel passionate about. Discuss if this approach offers the viewer a greater understanding of your point of view.